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Landing a Job during the Pandemic: Gabriela’s Story


Gabriela is an international accompanying spouse from Argentina. She came to the United States a few years ago with her husband, a postdoc at an American university. In Argentina, she worked as an online marketing specialist. She is now an Account Executive at an American company, helping them expand their footprint in Latin America.

I interviewed Gabriela about her job search during the pandemic. Here’s her story.

Tell me about your process of finding work in the U.S. What were your main challenges?

My main challenge was not having a network. You don’t know anyone, and nobody knows you and how you work.

Another challenge was that even though I work in an industry that is known worldwide, the main topics in an industry are different from region to region. Things that I thought were “hot” topics in my home country are different from what companies or advertisers think are important here. So, you need to understand and update the hot topics for your profession in the region or city you want to work.

Lastly, a challenge for me was learning how to sell myself. How you engage in an interview here is culturally really different compared to in Argentina.

How did you overcome these challenges?

I studied for a one-year certification in marketing at a university extension program. It was great because you can meet other people who are facing the same challenges you’re facing, so you have a community. It also helps you make new friends in the area. In addition, you get practice in public speaking and meet professors who can give you a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile and advise you on how things are going in the industry.

I also took workshops on “How to Write an American Resume” and “How to Toot Your Own Horn” and went to a few meetups on resume-writing.

Another very valuable resource was joining Facebook groups for women professionals in my industry. Women are very supportive to each other no matter where you are. You can send your resume to someone and they can give you feedback for free. They can tell you what the main challenges are in your industry, which companies are hiring, share contacts, tell you where to go to find more news or information. It’s a very open environment with people who understand your profession.

What job search strategies did you use?

I used LinkedIn and other listings such as Glassdoor and Indeed. LinkedIn was the best and most reliable source. You can get good information about the company, see trends and find out if the company is growing. I checked a company’s reputation on Glassdoor. It’s important to apply to jobs that are a good match for your background and experience. I applied to many jobs. It took me about 2.5 months to get an offer, which I got in May. I now work for a mobile marketing company, doing business development and account management for their Latin American territory.

How was the interview process? What questions did you find the most difficult?

The process took a month. I had three screening calls and later with four virtual interviews in a row with different people. I prepared a “pitch,” which is common here but not as common in Argentina.

“Tell me about yourself “was the most difficult question. What did people want me to say? Should I talk about my resume, my hobbies? I was tempted to start with explaining that I’m from Argentina but decided it’s not the best place to start. Your nationality is not the only thing that defines you so don’t start at the beginning with this topic. You need to know how to sell yourself besides talking about your nationality.

Some people might think that not having American work experience is a drawback. I turned not being from here, or not having experience here, into a valuable and unique asset. I included part of my personal experience in my cover letter. In addition to talking about my previous experience, I explained in the last paragraph that I’m from Argentina and that I’m multicultural. I talked about how my experience working in emerging markets could have value. I explained that I’m unique because I can work in different environments, and that I can add diversity and a different perspective.

I think that deciding to leave a great job in Argentina and having another life experience is a risk that not everyone is willing to take. This is a valuable skill. It showed that I’m willing to take risks and step outside my comfort zone.

It’s also important to recognize your limitations. It’s obvious I’m not American. I can’t fake that. You’re not going to hire me because I’m American. If you’re looking for that, you’re not my company. But if you really want someone different who can offer a different value, maybe I can give you things that you don’t have now.

Is there anything that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

Yes. Don’t say “we did.” Say “I did.”

Be patient. It’s going to take time. Don’t worry about rejections. It’s not about you. There are many great people here applying to jobs. Be resilient. Keep learning. There’s a place for everyone. Keep going!

Moving Through Transition


[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y work as a career consultant and intercultural trainer brings me into contact with many people in career and life transition. At UC Berkeley, where I have been working as a consultant and teaching a course called “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America,” I have met many international spouses and partners going through intercultural, career and life transition.

Some have never lived or even traveled outside their home country, and living far away from friends and family is a daily challenge. Finding a place to live, setting up the apartment, opening a bank account and knowing where to shop or get a good haircut are some of the practical challenges of living in a new place, but there are also psychological challenges. Most people from other countries experience some degree of “culture shock” and loneliness, while others can get paralyzed with fear, depression and anxiety, and not know how to “get out” of what may feel like a big, black hole.

I often refer people to William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Every transition, according to Bridges, begins with an “Ending.” When you move to another country, you experience many endings: an end to your job and to the sense of identity you got from your work, an end to time spent with close friends and family, and an end to being in a culture where you know the norms and can feel safe and comfortable, to name a few. You may go through a period that Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” where you feel lost and confused, unproductive, and not sure who you are anymore. It’s not a comfortable place. But in this period of confusion, there is growth happening as you begin to sort through who you are, what’s important in your life, and what you need to have to feel fulfilled. Your new identity is trying to take shape. Eventually, you will experience a renewed sense of energy as you begin to get new ideas and take action. You have moved through the neutral zone to a new beginning!

I have witnessed this process with the spouses and partners at UC Berkeley with whom I have had the privilege to work. To them and to you, I say, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It may feel scary because you don’t know the culture, your English isn’t perfect and you have an accent, or maybe you’re not used to starting up conversations with strangers. I understand, but don’t let this stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take your inspiration from some of these spouses:

Satu, a spouse from Finland, applied for work authorization but her application was denied. So, she decided to form the “Language Café,” an informal language exchange where people meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice different languages.

Mila from Mexico is a marine biologist. After volunteering at a nature center, she applied for a grant from UC Berkeley and received a sum of money to start a program on sustainable living called “Nature Village.” ( She received an award for her work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Ernani from Brazil is a high school physics teacher and musician. Since he couldn’t work on a F-2 visa, he decided to join a band and volunteer at a children’s science museum.

Doro from Germany didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in the U.S. and wanted to meet new people. She started a social group called the “Berkeley Wives” and created a website (, and now she has a membership of almost 300 spouses.

Kathy from Chile is a veterinarian who volunteered at an animal shelter for several months before getting a part-time job as a veterinary assistant.

Kirsty from Australia loves to sew and make her own clothes. She started writing her own blog, “Tea and Rainbows” (, to show off clothes she has made and talk about sewing techniques, patterns, fabric and anything else crafty.

These are just a few examples of spouses who have created or seized opportunities, taken risks, and stepped outside their comfort zone. You can too.

If you’re a new mother, find a mothers’ club to join where you can meet other moms to share the joys and frustrations of motherhood. Or, start your own new moms group.  

If you’re looking for work, learn the American way of networking and asking for informational interviews, and begin to make contact with people who can help advance you in your career. Take job search classes to learn how to write an American style resume, interview for a job, and “toot your own horn.”

If you are unable to get work authorization, find other ways to make your time in America meaningful and fulfilling. Is there something you’d like to try that you’ve never had the time to do? Is there a class that you could take or certificate that you could get to upgrade your professional skills? Can you think of some ways that you could be of service to others and volunteer your time? Or perhaps you’ve been too busy with your career to just take the time to have fun and relax. Allow yourself to do what makes you feel good and what makes you come alive.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your life in America!

Finding A Job in America: Laura’s Story


Laura Grau[dropcap]L[/dropcap]aura is from Barcelona, Spain and is 37 years old.  She first came to the US with her boyfriend three years ago. When she arrived, she was holding a fellowship that allowed her to work in the communications department at the Advanced Light Source in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL).  After that, she returned to Barcelona for 4 months and decided to come back to Berkeley to do a masters in Project Management. As soon as she finished her masters, her boyfriend and she decided to get married so that she could stay in the US. Her husband is a postdoc at UC Berkeley. 

I interviewed Laura about her job search and how she got her first job in America. Here’s her story.

What was your professional background before you came to the U.S. and how did you conduct your job search here in the San Francisco Bay Area?

In Barcelona, I worked for 6 years as an event manager in a research center and I wanted to further my career in the US. It took me more than half a year to find a position. It was harder than I thought it would be. During that time, besides spending lots of hours every day in front of my computer searching for a position and getting ready for interviews, I took advantage of all the opportunities that are offered here in the Bay Area: English classes, workshops and courses at UC Berkeley, the program English in Action, Berkeley Toastmasters, informational interviews, movie clubs, etc.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

One month ago, I started working at OWASP  (the Open Web Application Security Project) as a Global Event Manager. The OWASP is a worldwide not-for-profit charitable organization focused on improving the security of software. Its mission is to make software security visible so that individuals and organizations worldwide can make informed decisions about true software security risks.  Everyone is free to participate in OWASP and all of its materials are available under a free and open software license.

How did you find this job and how long did it take?  How was looking for a job here different from looking for a job in Spain?

I found this position through LinkedIn, but I also used other resources to search for a position. I regularly checked UC Berkeley Jobs, UCSF careers, Glassdoor, Careerbuilder, Monster, etc.  I subscribed to some career websites so that every day I would receive e-mails advertising positions for event managers.

The first thing I did was to write a resume in “the American way.” I asked for advice from some Americans to make sure it was all right! Apart from that, I wouldn’t say the process would have been different if I had been in Spain. However, for me, the interviewing process was hard. I felt frustrated after every interview I did because I am not a native English speaker and I can’t express myself as I do in my own language.

What was the most difficult interview question you were asked? 

Once I was asked what my communication strategy was in my previous job. To me it is funny how some interviewers use grandiloquent expressions. He just wanted to know how and how often I communicated with my team. Apart from that, the questions are more or less always the same and the more common job interview questions can easily be found on the internet.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

OWASP is a foundation that involves people from all over the world. A couple of months ago they were looking for a Global Event Manager able to organize conferences across the five continents. I don’t know much about selling myself, and actually I don’t like doing it. I know that there are plenty of people out there very well prepared to do what I do, but I also know that I am a very good Event Manager, I have six years experience, and I enjoy doing my job.  I think that was enough for them to see me as a good match for the organization.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

I wish I would have known that it would be such a long process. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated during those months.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.? 

What worked for me was not ever losing hope, and being open-minded about other things I could do while looking for a job. There are plenty of good opportunities out there! It is not only about finding a position, but enjoying the learning process!


Dual-Track Couples in Academia


On June 28, 2012, UC Berkeley held a PhD Colloquium on Dual-Track Couples, and I was invited to speak on this topic. Over 70% of PhDs are in dual-career relationships. This “Two Body” problem adds to the stress and uncertainty caused by the already challenging academic job search process. The purpose of the colloquium was to equip PhDs with information and advice designed to help them navigate the search for career opportunities and provide spouses/partners with useful strategies for pursuing their own personal and professional objectives as an academic or in other realms.

The focus of my talk was on 1) helping couples understand the issues and challenges that they may be facing as they relocate together and 2) providing practical information and strategies on what they can do to create personal and professional meaningful lives after relocating. Click below to download a copy of my Powerpoint presentation.

PhD Colloquium: Dual Track Couples

Other speakers at the colloquium were Dr. Mary Ann Mason, professor of social welfare and co-director of the Center, Economics and Family Security, Berkeley School of Law, and Dr. Andrea Rees Davies, Director of Programs and Research at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University. Dr. Davies is a national expert on dual-academic career couples.